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Activists Go To Court With Claims Of Anti-Israel Bias In Newton Schools

The arrival of a massive complaint in state superior court has initiated a new phase in a long war over alleged anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias in the Newton Public Schools.

The 469-page complaint (PDF), filed earlier this month, accuses several Newton officials of continuing to allow the teaching of “false and hateful stereotypes about Israel, Israelis and the Jewish people.”

It adds that after “seven Sisyphean years” pushing for change in emails and public hearings, plaintiffs feel they “have exhausted all avenues” except for litigation. But the defendants are pushing back — among them Newton’s superintendent and a Newton North history teacher.

The six plaintiffs are residents of Newton. But none are parents or pupils in Newton Public Schools, and so don’t have the legal standing to sue over a personal experience of discrimination.

Instead, they filed a “mandamus” complaint, alleging that teachers and administrators in Newton are failing to meet their obligations under state law to combat discrimination and promote equal rights. The plaintiffs have not responded to a request for an interview.

Due to the ongoing litigation, Newton North teacher David Bedar — one of the defendants — was unable to respond immediately. But in a statement, Newton Superintendent David Fleishman and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller dismissed the suit, saying that though the plaintiffs' "approach is new, the allegation is the same.”

The joint statement also referred to a 2013 determination by Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that none of the purportedly biased material submitted amounted to a “violation of education law, regulation or policy.”

The complaint does indeed resurface allegations dating back as far as eight years.

Among them are claims that high school teachers in Newton used propagandistic maps to teach about the Israel-Palestine conflict, reprinted histories of the Quran they describe as misleading or asked students to consider the “pros and cons” of a "one-state solution" to the conflict, with people of both nationalities living together under a single democratic state.

The Anti-Defamation League has characterized that solution as “nothing less than an indirect attempt to bring about an end to the State of Israel.”

Most of the complaint consists of evidence, including scans from textbooks, maps of the Mediterranean coast and emails to and from district faculty and staff.

At a hearing last fall, Bedar said he and his colleagues use contentious documents to teach about historical context and perspective, in an effort to help students “cultivate the ability to empathize with views that are different from their own.”

In December, Superintendent Fleishman told WBUR that Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the principal nonprofit group behind the complaints, had filed so many requests for curriculum records of the kind that appear in the complaint that more than a dozen teachers needed time out of the classroom to respond.

Earlier Coverage:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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